Tackling Gun Crime

The European Commission is saying that that stricter rules on gun sales and licensing, stronger cross-border cooperation and better data gathering are needed to cut gun-related crime in the EU.

To achieve these objectives, the Commission has set out a new EU strategy for reducing gun violence, contained in a new Commission Communication entitled “Firearms and the internal security of the EU: protecting citizens and disrupting illegal trafficking”.

The strategy contains a number of proposed EU and national actions. These include a common EU standard for marking all firearms and ammunition, compulsory medical and criminal record checks for purchases, the creation of cyber patrol teams to monitor illegal online activity and the possibility of an outright ban on the online sale of certain firearms.

Key Points

The Communication is the Commission’s response to a European Parliament request for greater EU involvement in the regulation of firearms, and for greater cross-border cooperation to tackle firearms smuggling.

The strategy focuses on four key areas: 
• Protecting lawful sales and the possession of firearms (covering manufacturing, possession and licensing) 
• Controls to reduce the risk of illegal diversion of firearms 
• Strengthening legislation and cross-border cooperation to combat trafficking 
• Gathering comprehensive data on gun-related crime across the EU

The Commission also suggests that the current legal framework on firearms, including the Firearms Directive (on acquisition and possession of non-military weapons within the EU) and Regulation No 258/2002 requiring authorisation exports of non-military firearms to non-EU countries will have to be strengthened in line with the UN Protocol on Firearms.

Protecting Lawful Sales

The Commission wants to carry out a review of the Firearms Directive, in order to provide greater certainty for lawful producers and owners of firearms. One major problem is that poor implementation of the Directive means that national legislation in this field varies widely. Such discrepancies help criminals.

The Communication proposes three actions:
• An examination of whether civilian access to certain firearms should be restricted, such as semi-automatic guns
• A common EU standard for marking all firearms and ammunition, which would help trace those used for criminal purposes
• Consistent licensing procedures, which would include compulsory medical and criminal record checks for the purchasing and possession of weapons. Licences should expire over time and be subject to renewal

Reducing Illegal Diversion

Firearms legally produced for civilian or military use can be diverted to criminal markets. This vulnerability will be assessed in the evaluation report of the Firearms Directive, scheduled for 2015.

In the meantime, the Commission has outlined additional measures to tackle the diversion of weapons:
• Update and enforce controls on the sale and illegal manufacture of firearms, especially at arms fairs where opportunities to acquire deactivated or prohibited weapons can arise
• The Commission also envisages the creation of cyber patrol teams capable of coping with technological developments, such as online retail and 3-D printing techniques 
• The feasibility of an outright ban on the sale and purchase of all or certain firearms on the internet should be considered
• Minimum standards for secure storage by weapons owners in the EU should be introduced in order to prevent theft and loss of firearms. These should include technological solutions such as biometric sensors, where personal data is stored in the firearm
National legislation on the deactivation of firearms varies widely. For this reason, the Commission advocates the destruction of surplus arms as the most effective solution for their disposal.

Strengthening Cross-Border Cooperation

A priority of the Communication is to further develop cooperation at EU level for ensuring effective formal and substantial checks at the borders against arms smuggling.

Several actions are proposed in this respect:
• The Commission wants to develop an overall plan for improving cross-border cooperation between police, customs and border guards. This would include the collection and exchange of information on firearms crime and coordinated police operations aimed at identifying the routes of illegal trafficking
• Guidance for law enforcement officers on cross-border investigations into crime-related firearms should be strengthened
• Particular attention should be given to strengthening deterrents against the misuse of firearms. The Commission suggests the introduction of new EU legislation on minimum levels for criminal offences and sanctions, in order to avoid legal loopholes that could advantage traffickers 
• Tracing is essential for identifying who is responsible for firearms offences and how the weapon was acquired. The Commission would like to see binding rules developed that would build on international agreements and best practices developed by the United Nation's International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS)
• A new development could be the creation of a central online repository of factual information on ballistics and weapons types, to be maintained by Europol following INTERPOL (the International Criminal Police Organisation’s)  experience

Gathering Gun Crime Data

Finally, the Communication wants to improve coordination and build a more effective intelligence system. This will help in the effective tracing of firearms across the EU.

Computerised data-filing systems on legally held firearms should be put in place by the end of 2014 in Member States, in order to facilitate the exchange of information.

The Commission wants to see existing IT tools and databases, such as the Customs Risk Management System, the Customs Information System and the Europol Information System, to be fully exploited at all stages of criminal investigations. In 2014, additional training schemes for front-line law enforcement officers will be organised at EU and national level, including through the European Police College.

Next Steps

The Commission is obliged to review the implementation of the Firearms Directive (amended in 2008) by 2015. Following this evaluation, the Commission will put forward initiatives, including legislative proposals, if appropriate.

In order to prepare for this evaluation, the Commission plans to launch a public consultation in 2014 or 2015. This will help the Commission to assess the different options for tackling the problems that have been identified in this Communication.